By Catherine Clifford
The CFMEU has lodged unfair dismissal claims on behalf of 11 workers retrenched at Boggabri Coal, claiming workers with 457 visas were retained when more than 100 local workers lost their jobs.
The 457 visa is issued for skilled workers from overseas who have been sponsored to work in Australia on a temporary basis.
In May, Downer-EDI advised it would retrench 106 workers, a third of the Boggabri workforce, citing a reduction in production targets.
Downer signed a multi million dollar contract with Idemitsu Australia Resources in December 2010 to provide mining services at the Boggabri open-cut mine.
CFMEU spokesman, Grahame Kelly, says the Union believes a class of temporary workers, who should’ve been let go first, were instead kept on.
“When there was a bit of research done it was found those people on 457 visas, despite the company’s claims, were really just servicemen who service the vehicles,” he said.
“The company decided of the eight people it had on 457s, six of them should retain their jobs at Boggabri and I understand the other two actually were transferred within the company to Queensland somewhere for work.”
Grahame Kelly says local workers should not have been stood down ahead of those who are here temporarily.
“An unfair dismissal exists because there’s a wrong in the process and in the 457 visas we think the wrong is the company claiming these people have got special skills,” he said.
“They don’t have special skills; they are simply servicemen or tradesmen who work on the equipment and the equipment was serviced and maintained prior to them getting there and it could be serviced and maintained quite adequately after they leave.”
In the wake of the CFMEU’s claims, the office of federal Immigration Minister, Brendan O’Connor, issued a statement.
A spokeswoman said the Minister has referred the 457 claims to his Department for further investigation.
Brendan O’Connor’s office says allegations Boggabri Coal may have misused its 457 visa system, if proven, are serious.
The office of federal Employment Minister, Bill Shorten, also issued a statement, saying the 457 visa is designed to fill skill shortages, not take the jobs of Australian workers.
The statement says workers are protected against false claims of redundancy under the Fair Work Act.
The office of the federal Employment Minister says, as the matter is now before the Fair Work Commission, it is inappropriate to comment on the individual claims.
Meantime, Downer-EDI has issued a statement saying it complies with both the letter and the spirit of the law in the use of Section 457 visa employees, including relevant anti-discrimination legislation and the conditions of the Fair Work Act.
The Northern District Vice-President of the CFMEU, Jeff Drayton, says he’s happy to hear the federal Immigration Minister is investigating the CFMEU’s claims.
Mr Drayton says he’s hoping the Immigration Minister makes contact with the Union.
“I hope he talks to us obviously we have intimate knowledge of, you know, the skills in particular that are required both at Boggabri Coal and in the industry generally,” he said.
“So, yes, I hope the Minister does talk to us and stops the ability of mines to abuse 457 visas.”
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